Finding a Project Vision

Coming up with an exciting but achievable project can be very challenging. If you already have a clear idea for your project, that’s great. You can start working on the design and prototyping stages. If you don’t know what you want to do, there are a few strategies that might get you going.

Dr. Linus Pauling famously said that the best way to have good ideas is to have LOTS of ideas. That is, create a list of as many ideas as you can, then start focusing on the ones that appear promising. Eventually you’ll winnow the list down to the good ones. Don’t be surprised if only a fraction of your initial ideas turn out to be good. That’s normal.

See what’s out there. To get your idea generator going it helps to look at as many examples as possible of what other people have done. You can replicate the project exactly or add your own twist along the way. Here are a few places to look:

  • Instructables: Contains an exhaustive set of step-by-step instructions for a million different projects of all difficulty levels. You could spend half a lifetime browsing this site. You can also contribute your project to the site to help others.
  • Make: Projects: A user-contributor DIY project-sharing site seeded with a collection of projects from MAKE magazine
  • MAKE magazine: Every edition of the magazine is filled with detailed project ideas and plans.
  • Make: Online: The Makezine blog has a number of posts each day describing thought-provoking projects. The comments made by readers can also be very helpful.
  • Maker Faire Maker search: Browse nearly 4000 projects that have exhibited at previous Maker Faires in the Bay Area, Austin, Detroit, and New York City.
  • Howtoons: A wonderful collection of highly visual materials. Particularly helpful is the Guide to Visual Communication.
  • Contact us: If you have suggestions for other links to add to this list.

Figure out what you want to learn. Another strategy is to pick a set of skills that you’d like to acquire (such as knitting, soldering, or welding), or a material or medium that you’d like to experiment with (such as wood, metal, or ceramics). You can then do web searches related to these skills and materials. You may also know people who have the knowledge you’re after — don’t hesitate to ask. People are generally very happy to share what they know and are happy to help. If you find a Maker who has skills related to your project, they may be available to advise you–somethimes they include their email addresses on their project page, or just tell us who you’re trying to get in touch with and we’ll try to make the connection.

Play with something new. Another great way to stimulate ideas is to play with a new material. Mylar, electro-luminescent wire, shape-memory alloy, … any new material (or even an old material used in new ways) can jolt your imagination. Spend a long time with the material, experimenting in as many different ways with it as you can imagine, or look to see what others have done with this material by searching online.

Do what you love. You can also focus on things you like, such as music, video games, or holidays. Halloween and Christmas provide great opportunities for Makers. For Halloween you can make props for your yard or interesting costumes. For Christmas you can make wonderful decorations for your tree, your home, or your yard.

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